Ask any former student what their favorite thing about my class is, and most will say, “Simulation.” Simulation is something another teacher showed me from Scholastic that comes in a PDF form or you can purchase the physical packet for about a dollar more. I have purchased all the ones below and they are well worth the $8!
First, I divide the class into smaller groups. I like six groups, which makes about 4-5 students in a group. I use this electronic group generator that is a Smart Notebook file so there are no complaints about who is in which group (although you can shuffle it as many times as needed). I do this before showing the students their groups.
These simulations are very much like the Oregon Trail computer game we played as kids, or the choose-your-own-ending novels. I read a passage, the small groups make a joint decision, and they listen to the consequences. During the Explorer’s Simulation, for example, the small groups make a decision whether to take the deal offered by King Ferdinand or Isabella for a fleet, or try their luck with the King of Portugal, Manuel I. Other times, the students have to spin on spinner board (paper clip and pencil) to see what their consequences are.
For a few years, I was printing each student a “Simulation Packet” where the kids would keep track of their data and write their journal entries. Then I decided to create them on Google Docs and share on Google Classroom. The reading passages are posted in PDF form, and the students keep track of their journal electronically. While it takes a long time for us to sit and wait for entire groups to spin on the electronic spinner (also available on a Smart Notebook file), it actually builds excitement as the other groups root for, and cheer on, their classmates. As part of most simulations (not the Bill Becomes a Law one), students whose health dips below a five, actually ‘die’. I’ve had entire wagon companies in the Oregon Trail simulation perish before reaching Oregon.
These simulations are great for many reasons. One, they put the students into the shoes of an actual person of the time period. I can teach them about famous Revolutionary War heroes, but when they are making decisions as if they were a soldier, they are soaking in the history and making it relatable. Two, the simulations foster those 21st century skills like communication and collaboration. Three, the Oregon Trail simulation includes a lot of math– the students keep track of how much money they have with them and the pounds of food and supplies they can carry. Interdisciplinary lessons kill two birds with one stone.
I’ve learned that a lot of those old worksheets or printable packets teachers love to share can be converted quickly and easily into electronic files. I loved Simulation but always hated printing the huge packets (even front and they back they could be like 6-10 pages per kid). I’m saving trees and still using the content the kids love. I just started our first simulation (the Explorer’s one) and already had kids thanking me and telling me how much fun they were having. Learning doesn’t have to look like textbooks and worksheets, people!